Principle 5: Total Customer Experience

Book Discussion:
“Sticky Branding” by Jeremy Miller

Are you ready for Principle 5 about “Total Customer Experience”? If you haven’t read my previous blogs and would like to catch up, just start here.

Ready? Off to Principle 5. What does Miller mean by “Total Customer Experience”? The following sentence covers it in a few words: “It doesn’t matter what the company promotes, it’s what the customer experiences that counts. […] Sticky Brands provide their customers [with] compelling experiences that keep them coming back.” (page 82)

By now, I believe it is abundantly clear that emotions are a main driver in our customers’ decision process. It is not enough for us to tell them how great our product or service is, our customers have to feel the difference between you and your competition. Do you only say you care, or do you really care?

Having a sweet tooth and loving Belgian chocolate, Miller’s example really resonated with me. The words he used in describing his experience with the Canadian Chocolatier Purdys speak volumes.

Miller went to one of Purdys’s retail stores, “a chocolate lover’s paradise,” (page 84) located in a busy train station late on a Friday afternoon. Entering the store he felt that “the chocolates engage [his] sense of taste and smell,” (page 85) but he was very “surprised that a retail associate, her name is Nora, would spark a conversation in such a busy environment” and ask him about his favorite chocolate. (page 85) In response he was given two samples, and their conversation continued about the chocolates.

The simple gesture and genuine curiosity “What is your favorite?” […] “may seem a little mundane” because “any retailer can ask [this] question. But the fact is, most don’t.” (page 86) The “authentic curiosity” that Miller felt is “an anomaly” (page 87) and transformed his chocolate purchase into a compelling experience. Very simple, but extremely powerful.

Don’t we often say: “The devil lies in the detail?” So often it’s the little things that can make all the difference and, in this case, they don’t even cost a dime. I frequently hear that businesses should strive to delight their customers and exceed their expectations; most don’t. And most of the time it’s, as mentioned above, the little things that are missing. One of my favorite examples is the difference between going shopping at Trader Joe’s and ShopRite. Just to be clear, I don’t get any commission for writing this, but at Trader Joe’s the staff goes out of their way to help me find a product; they even check their new deliveries if it’s not on the shelf. At ShopRite I’m lucky if the employee doesn’t walk away when I approach.

You, as a small business owner or entrepreneur, have it in your hands to make your customer feel special and important. There are a million different ways to do it. Listen to your customers and be proactive. They’ll tell you what they want. Or ask them what they miss or what they struggle with, help them, and you are well on your way. As mentioned in my previous blog , humans are hard-wired to notice differences. Use it to your advantage.

How does Purdys manage their customer experience? They sell their premium chocolates only in Purdys stores and online. They hire the right people and train them to be Purdys chocolate ambassadors. I don’t know Purdys or their chocolate, but I’m pretty certain that their sales staff loves chocolate as much as their customers.

Enough about chocolate (at least for now). Let’s look at some other companies that have a great reputation with their customers. How about Apple, Virgin, Tesla or Starbucks? How about Trader Joe’s and Mini Cooper? Each adds their own flavor to an excellent customer experience. And that is exactly what makes them Sticky Brands, brands their customers come back to over and over again. They are by no means perfect, and they don’t have to be. But they add their personality at each customer touchpoint, and their customers talk about them.

Coming back to my introductory sentence, it’s not about what a company says, it’s about what they do and how they make you, the customer, feel. What is your special skill that makes you better than anybody else in your industry? What do you do better than anybody else? Let’s sum it up with Miller’s own words: “Each place your customers engage with your brand is an opportunity to create a compelling experience. Look at all your customer touchpoints: website, apps, your facilities, salespeople, customer service, your products, marketing material, and any other place your customer may come in contact with your brand. Each of these points is an opportunity to engage your customers and enhance their experience.” (page 91)

Over to you now. Where can you engage with your customer? What can you do to support them in a more meaningful way or make it easier for them? Let me hear what you have learned and what you are planning to do in the comments below.

If you’d like to read more about this topic you should check out the article “Branding Through Customer Service” by Carole Mancuso of Brand Building for Small Business.

Until next week

Principle 4: Engage the Eye

Book Discussion:
“Sticky Branding” by Jeremy Miller

Continuing our reading journey of Sticky Branding, we reached Principle 4. In case you missed the first three principles, you can find them on my website. It starts with a brief Introduction to the book and continues on a weekly basis with Principle 1, 2 and 3.

Let’s dive into Principle 4 and the law of attraction. 

Whether we want it or not, there is something about the first couple of seconds that shapes our opinion of someone or something that we can’t deny. 

I still remember the first time I consciously saw a Mini Cooper. I fell in love with this cute, colorful, and spirited little car. Each time I saw one I got all excited. I associated a lot of positive feelings with it even before I had driven one. 

When Miller writes “Attraction is magic” (page 67) his words exactly describe my emotional experience with the Mini. Attraction plays to our primal instincts and our lizard brain. In other words, we can’t avoid its grasp. If we find something attractive we notice it, we’re drawn to it. We like to associate ourselves with these products or groups or persons because they reflect who we are, they are part of our identity. Miller writes: “We also choose products and brands to enhance our own sense of self-worth.” (page 67) Guilty as charged. Here’s a little example from my world: 

I’m sure you’ll agree that a Mini Cooper is mostly a fun car. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but if you intend to drive kids to soccer practice or if you need to go grocery shopping the car quickly reaches its limits. Knowing this full well, I still couldn’t resist its charms and bought one. I loved it because I could customize it to my liking, when I ordered it (yes, I had to wait eight excruciating weeks before I could pick it up), the sales rep made a couple of great suggestions that I incorporated (no, it didn’t cost more money), but most importantly, each time I drove my little Mini, it was pure joy for me. I loved every moment of it, and getting into the car and driving it made my day. 

My favorite car, my cinnamon and black Mini Cooper

Why is this so important, especially if we’re thinking about prospective customers? Because we judge products or services at every visual touch point. In a blink of an eye, we decide if we like a product and find it worth a second look. This very first impression guides our next move: are we interested, or are we not interested? Did the visual presentation catch our attention or not? Did it tell the right story? And for our purpose: how do I tell my visual brand story. It’s not just about the logo or color; it’s about all visual aspects of your product or service. It’s about the font on your website, images, icons, the overall design of your website or printed material, the navigation of your website, and all your marketing material such as brochures, flyers, newsletters… you name it.

Every one of these components tells a story, and, when combined, they tell your (prospective) customer your story. What you stand for, what you are like and what your product is like. The more unique you are, the easier it will be for customers to distinguish you from the crowd. To pick you or your service for a reason.

In order to find your uniqueness you have to dig deep. Miller recommends to work with metaphors. They are universally known and easily understood. They help us make sense of the world and our experiences and guide our actions. One of the best known ones is the hero story: Harry Potter, Star Wars and the like. But don’t drift into clichés. Dig deep, and find what really matters to you and your customers. Miller quotes Gerald Zaltman from his book “How Customers Think”: “Marketers who wish to influence the stories that consumers create must build stories around archetypes, not stereotypes. A story built around an archetype involves a universal theme, that is, a core or deep metaphor simultaneously embedded in a unique setting.” Zaltman distinguishes between seven deep metaphors which he labels: balance (or imbalance), transformation, journey, container, connection, resource, and control. (page 74) 

LEAPJob, Miller’s own company, researched where career transition and job-hunting fit in with these seven metaphors. His team often heard words like “I’m stuck” or “change directions” or “go down a new path” and realized that a career transition or job change is a journey. The next step for LEAPJob was to determine how they could help their clients on this journey. They found that they often used the words “We don’t just guide salespeople to find their next job, we help them leapfrog to the next stage in their career.” (page 74) The words “leap” and “leapfrog” became the basis for their visual identity, and Leapy the Frog, their mascot, was born.

To make the point here, a strong visual identity tells your story and speaks to your customers on an emotional level. It attracts their eyes and tells them without words what experience your company will deliver. Like in Principle 1 “Simple Clarity,” simplicity is queen. Pay close attention to any feedback, especially when testing different versions. Ask industry outsiders what they see, what they feel, and what story your images tell them. 

Did I mention that Sticky Branding is an ongoing process? That’s also true for your visual brand identity. Like fashion, it has a shelf life. Not only because styles change over time, but also because you, your company or your offering may have changed. You want your brand identity to look fresh, inviting and up-to-date. Miller says: “Make your business stand out by really working to enhance the visual appeal of your brand. Look to each customer touch point – website, marketing materials, your products, your office, and any other areas your customer engages with regularly – and consider how you can deliver a compelling visual experience.” (page 78)

Before I close this chapter, let’s have a final look at the questions you should ask yourself when creating your visual brand identity. They are mainly the headlines from Miller’s exercise section: 

  1. Pick a story
  2. Select pictures
  3. Share your story
  4. Listen to the feedback
  5. Find common phrases
  6. Identify your deep metaphors
  7. Pick your metaphors

Now it’s your turn. How did you come up with the pictures, colors, font, etc. for your brand? Do you find Miller’s approach helpful or did you take a different approach for your visual presentation? Please let me know in the comments below. 

Until next week

Principle 3: Function that Resonates

Book Discussion:
Sticky Branding” by Jeremy Miller

Today I’d like to talk about Principle 3 of Miller’s book “Sticky Branding.” But before I do, here’s a quick recap of the previous Principles.

  • Principle 1 was about clarity and its importance for helping prospective customers in their decision-making process. If you want to refresh your memory, go here.
  • Principle 2 was about consistency in our messaging, which means saying no to opportunities that don’t fit. Here is my take on this principle.

So, let’s move on to Principle 3 and what Miller means by “Function that Resonates.” In a nutshell: products or services of sticky brands must be intuitive, easy to use, and work. And you should strive to always over-deliver and wow your customer. In Miller’s words: “Sticky Brands are positioned to win, because they have a clear understanding of how they deliver value to clients, and they invest in the operational excellence to deliver on those needs.” (page 62)    

The example that resonated with me in this chapter is about a used car dealership called Wheels and Deals. I find that buying a car is no fun. Truth be told, I don’t like it at all. In my many car-driving years I can recall only one occasion where I enjoyed shopping for and buying a car; it was when I was buying my Mini Cooper. For the first time I had the feeling the sales rep actually enjoyed what he was doing and was proud of what he was selling. He gave me the feeling I should get the best and most beautiful Mini ever. Why does this come to my mind right now? That is where Miller’s example comes into play. 

Wheels and Deals, a small local used car dealership, did well until the competitive landscape started changing. A competitor with deep pockets opened their doors nearby. Their bigger inventory attracted a lot of customers, hurting the “little guy,” Wheels and Deals. Instead of sticking his head in the proverbial sand, Jim took the time observing his competitor, noting what they did well and what they didn’t do so well. I’m not surprised by his discovery, because he noticed that their sales reps “…were aggressive, commission driven, and they didn’t care what they sold to their customers.” (page 54) 

This is exactly how I felt so many times when buying a car. Sorry, I digress. Let’s continue with the example. 

Wheels and Deals used Jim’s observations to their advantage. They started focusing on better quality cars and better service. In addition, they communicated and showed their customers how they’ll keep their promise of selling higher-quality cars. 

Here is what they started doing for higher quality: Each car they purchased for resale was inspected and serviced beyond government regulations. Before they put a car on the sales lot, they “invest, on average, between $800 and $1,200 in every car.” (page 54) It means making less money on each sold car, but making up for it in volume and customer loyalty. This customer loyalty wasn’t built overnight. It took time. They didn’t only speak of higher quality cars and better service, they lived and breathed it and earned their customers’ trust. 

And here is how they welcome new customers: Friendly staff greets them in a beautiful showroom, they get a tour of the dealership which includes a visit at the mechanics’ bays, and an introduction to the Customer Care Manager. And to top that, Wheels and Deals gives a 90-day warranty with each car. I’m sure their customers don’t think the sales rep is pushy or doesn’t care. On the contrary, by taking the time and showing their customers around they demonstrate what their customers can expect. Did I mention the word trust?

I can only attest to how important both customer service and genuine caring are for someone who is purchasing a car. It proves that “Even commoditized markets can stand out and create Function that Resonates” with their customers. (page 53) Having said that, only a company’s core skills and assets can sustain this competitive edge and make it an integral part of their value proposition. 

  • Finally, and a quick flashback to Principle 1, I quote: “The customer is working with an organization that delivers a tangible benefit, and they can see it, talk about it, and experience it.” (page 56) 

COVID 19 has changed our business landscape to an extent that I can’t fathom yet. I’m very impressed by some entrepreneurs’ and solopreneurs’ creativity and their ideas on how to provide value to their customers and keep their businesses running. I met them in virtual networking groups. We were and still are trying to help each other through brainstorming. Here are some of the examples:

  • A swim teacher creates online birthday parties for children 
  • A photographer offers an online photo shoot 
  • A realtor provides additional information relevant to people buying a house or moving 
  • Yoga studios and gyms teach online classes

To me the “Function that Resonates” or customer value is obvious. All of the above offerings are a product of today’s shelter in place situation helping people celebrate children’s birthdays, getting their exercise, or keeping in touch with their prospective clients by providing helpful information pertaining to buying a house or moving.

I believe I mentioned it in the introduction to this series, building a sticky brand isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes time, adaptability, creativity, an open ear for your customers, a lot of work, and a long-term commitment. But looking at the current situation proves to me that it is the only way, especially for small businesses, to survive. 

 “When you identify an area that can make a real impact on your clients, hold on to it. Invest in it. Make it your own.” (page 62)

And with that I would love to hear what you think about Principle 3. What is your take on it? Put your thoughts in the comments below. 

See you next week,

Principle 2: Tilt the Odds

Book Discussion:
“Sticky Branding” by Jeremy Miller

And the journey continues. But before I jump into Principle 2 – have you thought about the chapter on “Simple Clarity”? Did it give you pause? Did it bring up memories of situations in which you got blank looks when talking about your business or a friendly smile but no reaction? Or have you reached the “proficient level” with your pitch?

Let me know and add your comment in this thread.

Off to the next principle. “Tilt the Odds”

In the introduction to this principle Miller writes: Sticky Brands […] “they are not all things to all people.” A deceivingly simple statement that I believe rings true for most entrepreneurs, but in practice is hard to do for several reasons.

Reason number one is you haven’t defined your niche or specialty yet. This is quite common at the beginning of an entrepreneur’s journey because we evolve and discover what we are really good at and what we are really passionate about and what sells. It’s a process in which we learn, going from the general to the specific. Take, for example, a photographer. In the beginning she may say she’s a photographer for events, portraits, and weddings. Over time she may find out that she is particularly good at catching the special moments at events and specializes only in that. Or she may find out that instead of events, portraits, and weddings she is an excellent photographer of food.

Reason number two is the “problem” of saying no to opportunities that don’t fit. For me this is a big one if you need the money and feel you can’t afford to decline work. Miller calls this time “sales purgatory” (page 45), the time you don’t sell a lot or don’t have a lot of clients. He refers to companies that change their brand, but I believe it is equally relevant when you start a new business. If you present yourself as the expert for xyz, this is what people will know and remember you for. It just takes time to get over the hump from nobody to somebody. It is the time during which you must focus and optimize your marketing efforts. What is it that you need to do in order to reach your audience, aka prospective clients? Do you have a website, or do you need to create one? Do you need to be present on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram… or any other social media channel for that matter? What other opportunities do you have to make people aware of your products or services?

Which brings us to reason number three: money. It doesn’t really matter where you’re at in your business endeavor; you will need money to pay your bills. I don’t want to dampen your enthusiasm, but it will always take longer than you think to get over the hump from nobody to somebody. As we have learned in Principle 1, we need to hit the right chord with our pitch, which may take time and some experimentation, but we also need to get known. Some entrepreneurs already have a network that supports their marketing efforts. That’s a big advantage, but some may have to build it first. The key is communicating, communicating, communicating what we do. 

Since we’re talking about communication… It is equally important if you work with a team. Spirits may run low at times if you have experienced some setbacks. Keeping your team in the loop will ensure that they are still on board and understand what’s going on. Instead of allowing doubt to grow, you’ll include them, and they will play an active role in the process of reaching your and also their goal. 

If you’re a solopreneur like me, a great support system can take this role instead, and I find it invaluable. I’m not telling you anything new if I say building your own business, no matter how big or small, is a rollercoaster ride. Along the way we encounter many ups and downs. The downs are much easier to deal with if someone has some encouraging words for us, serves as a sounding board, or helps us come up with new ideas. The ups are far more fun if we can celebrate them with trusted supporters and friends (even if we have to do this virtually right now).  

I have a couple of trusted business owners I can turn to with questions, a coach who helps me with whatever problem I’m struggling with at the moment, and my very supportive ex-business partner who doesn’t shy away from saying things candidly. Not that I always want to hear them, at least not at the moment, but more often than not they started a process that, over time, brought me closer to where I want to go with my business and also who I want to become as a person.

I took the liberty of focusing my view more on solopreneurs to make Principle 2 more relevant and applicable to you. But here are a couple of closing thoughts about it that, no matter your business size, I find important to mention. 

According to Miller, the alternative to a niche or sticky brand is the generalist that often competes on price and availability alone which is particularly difficult in a downturn economy. Creating your niche provides you with the luxury to own it and be the big fish, even if you are a comparably small company. It’s your expertise, your in-depth knowledge about the industry, and your continuous effort to serve your clients better that protect you from a price race to the bottom.

An aspect that I believe is vital for us solopreneurs is playing “off your strengths” (page 50) which, in turn, will help you use your resources more effectively and efficiently. As a solopreneur or entrepreneur, you wear many hats, and your resources, especially time, are limited. Miller calls it “rigor in sales and delivery” (page 50) and working off of guidelines. These guidelines will help you qualify prospective customers with a few questions and weed out the ones that are better served by someone else. At LEAPJob, Miller’s recruiting company, the three guiding questions are around position, location, and salary. If a prospect is no fit, he refers them to another recruiting company.

What is your takeaway from Principle 2? Are you ready to say no? What are your criteria to determine if a prospect is a good fit? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

See you next week,

Principle 1: Simple Clarity

Book Discussion:
“Sticky Branding” by Jeremy Miller

Have you read the Introduction? Did it persuade you to continue on this branding adventure?

Let’s continue with “Principle 1 – Simple Clarity” and dive right into it.

Simple Clarity sounds… simple, doesn’t it? You know what you are doing, so it should be easy to put it into words. If I’m honest, I found this to be quite difficult. Like your elevator pitch, your sales pitch takes a lot of editing and revising before you hit the mark. It’s a process; one that I would consider well worth your time and effort. Here is why: “It makes your brand easier to talk about, easier to remember, and easier to find. The right words make all the difference in the world.” (page 30)

Using the right words, words or language your customers use, creates a connection. You show your customers that you feel their pain, their frustration and understand their problem. Be like Sherlock Holmes, shed light on what your clients search for. How do they respond to your “pitch”? Keep it short, descriptive and make it memorable. Don’t be clever or overthink it. Focus on the most important service or feature of your business or product. If you’re perceived as complicated you’ll lose their interest.

This is due to the way people process information. Miller refers to a book “The Dynamics of Persuasion” by Dr. Richard Perloff, Professor of Communication, and a scholar of persuasion and political communication perceptions and effects, who distinguishes between two modes of information processing:  centrally processed information and  peripherally processed information.

Bear with me to understand why this is relevant for your business. Processing information centrally means people are engaged, they want to go deep and research all angles of a topic. This kind of research takes place after you have narrowed down your options and have a closer look before making your final decision. Processing information peripherally, on the other hand, means taking only a few cues and rules that we trust or that we believe are valid to make our decision. Most of the time this is the way people make a decision in order to, among other reasons, prevent analysis paralysis ( in a nutshell: not being able to make a decision at all).

I believe this makes it quite clear why Simple Clarity is so important in our communication, online or in person. If our customers have to think about what we have to offer, or how we can help them, their brain turns off. Our words fall on deaf ears. They may think, consciously or unconsciously: too complicated, not interested. And we have lost them. If, however, we clearly state in their language what we do, or even better, do for them, then their eyes will light up, and we have created an opportunity for  a conversation that may lead to a business relationship.

And this brings us to the “how” of finding Simple Clarity for our business. Miller came up with three clarity types. Here they are:

1.            Category answers the question: What is your company’s specialty? Using his company as an example, it looked like this: “sales recruiter Toronto”. This category distinction only works if your company is not in a highly competitive industry.

2.            Function answers the question: What does your company do? He uses Cardinal Couriers as an example. Their differentiator in courier services is standard pricing for deliveries before 8:00am. That’s their focus, delivering before anyone is in the office. Their competition, on the other hand, charges a premium for this type of service.

3.            Situation answers the question: Whom does your company serve? It is the most difficult and complex of the three categories. It sets guidelines with whom a company is working, which may not be achievable in a few words. Therefore, this description is most useful for companies which operate in a “well-defined market with educated buyers.” In his example Miller describes one company that uses qualifying questions in their on-boarding process to find out if a prospective client is a fit or not.

Looking at my own business, I’m certainly in the “Function” category. I have to emphasize that my Taekwondo background (yep, I’m proud to say that I’m a third-degree black belt and instructor) is my basis for working with clients when I help them transform a feeling of chaos and overwhelm to a feeling of clarity and focus, from not getting anything done to progress and success. Did I say branding is a work in progress….

Last, but for sure not least, important is the aspect of making your company memorable and easy to talk about. If your (prospective) customers perceive your message as complicated or confusing, you can forget that they will or want to talk about you. They wouldn’t know how. That’s why Miller compares this part with a label. He suggests using 10 words or fewer, 10 words that are descriptive, explain the “content,” and are memorable.

For me the most important aspect of Principle 1 is the feedback from (prospective) customers. I put a lot of thought into the answers about who I am, what I do, and whom I serve, but I wasn’t as diligent about the feedback I got. As Miller says, it looked good on paper, but it didn’t necessarily resonate with my clients. I noticed when I struck a chord, but I didn’t make a note of the specific words that were used. That is something I had to start doing. Miller writes, and I couldn’t agree more now, that “Every time you share your Simple Clarity description it is a learning opportunity. Keep track of your responses. […] The market will tell you when you have Simple Clarity. Listen.” (page 39)

And with that, I’d like to hear what stood out for you in this chapter. Do you have your “Simple Clarity” nailed? Did the questions help you tackle it? What helped you through this process?

Tell me in the comments below.

See you next week,

Part 1: Introduction

Book Discussion:
“Sticky Branding” by Jeremy Miller

Are you in the market for some serious work on your branding? Join me in reading Sticky Branding by Jeremy Miller. It is a branding crash course or refresher course for all the aspects that are important for creating an outstanding brand. Miller explains in 12.5 Principles the important aspects of what he calls a sticky brand, and what one needs to do in order to create one’s own.

The wealth of information, examples, and exercises to make the principles stick (pun intended) is especially relevant for business owners who would like to grow and reach the next level. And if you just got started, it’s a great way to gain the clarity you will need in order to build your business on a solid foundation. Mallika from Miki Foto recommended this book to me, and I immediately got hooked. I’m currently re-branding my business, Coaching with a Kick, and found the questions in the exercises thought-provoking and helpful.

If you object and argue that branding is only for big companies, then hang on and go on this branding adventure with me. You may be surprised by what branding is or could be, according to Miller, even for the smallest of businesses. He poses a lot of questions. For example:

  • Do you know if your “pitch” to your clients or prospective clients is successful?
  • Do you know if you use the right channels to approach your prospective clients, social media or otherwise?
  • Do you make it easy for your prospective clients to pic you and not your competition?
  • Do you know how they feel about the purchasing process of your service or product?
  • Do you miss opportunities to be present for your clients or prospective clients?

And this is only a sneak preview into the many aspects Miller mentions.

I will post a blog every week focusing on a different chapter or, to use Miller’s words, “Principle.” I’m going to summarize what resonated with me, what I found particularly helpful, and how I implemented the lesson(s) learned. It would be fun to hear what struck a chord with you, what you discovered and what changes you will make in your business.

I’m sure there will be aspects that will make you think about your own business practices. You may find that your business can be tweaked or changed to be more client-focused or client-friendly.  After all, that’s what every business is, or better, should be about, right? So, let’s get started with Part 1, the “Introduction.”

Jeremy Miller wrote Sticky Branding because he was desperate. He had joined his parents’ family business, and a year into being at the helm of it the business started suffering. Even though they were “firing on all cylinders” (page 8) it didn’t show in the numbers. On top of low sales figures, they were working with clients that didn’t appreciate their services and, to make matters worse, were difficult to work with.

He needed to find out what was going wrong, and quickly. Miller and his team started by comparing other IT recruiting companies with his own: services, features, benefits and customer service. They came to realize that they were just “another tree in the evergreen forest” (page 9): same offer, same service, same features, same benefits, same customer service.   

This “discovery” triggered a re-evaluation process which led to a complete repositioning of his ailing family business. What used to be a mediocre, indistinguishable IT recruiting company at the brink of collapse transformed into a first class, outstanding recruitment company in sales and marketing.

It will come as no surprise that this transition was an extremely painful and scary time for Miller and his company. Not everything he and his team tried ended in success. But after they went through the 12.5 Principles and nailed each aspect of it, they had achieved what Miller calls a “sticky brand”  or, to use the analogy from the book, they created a company that “stand(s) out like an orange tree in an evergreen forest.” (page 9)

Do you know what a sticky brand is? I believe it’s time for a definition. A sticky brand ….

  • stands out and is remarkable.
  • is raved about by colleagues and friends.
  • exceeds customer expectations.
  • builds on and learns from each customer interaction.
  • brings together purpose, vision, a remarkable customer service experience, passion, and operational excellence.

The underlying theme is curiosity and the all-important question: “How can we serve our customers better.” Creating a sticky brand will never be a done deal, it will always be a continuous process.

This may sound a bit daunting and overwhelming. Especially for us entrepreneurs who are wearing so many hats. But before you throw in the towel and don’t even open the book, think about this: sticky brands, for the most part, don’t have customers, they have fans. Reason enough for me to put a lot of effort into my branding. How about you?

Part 2 of this series will be about “Principle 1: Simple Clarity.”

It all started with my elevator pitch….

In December of last year, I finally admitted to myself that my elevator pitch was, to say the least, not up to par. I had participated in quite a few networking events and “gave” my elevator pitch, but I never heard the magic words “That sounds interesting, tell me more.” Instead, I had the feeling that people were only listening because they wanted to be polite. There is nothing wrong with being polite, but… it doesn’t help you build and grow your business.

So, I got to work. I read about elevator pitches and “best practices, talked with other entrepreneurs and wrote a blog. To hold myself accountable, I said I would share my elevator pitch when it is done. Here it is:

Hello, I’m Regine.

I give entrepreneurs clarity of what is truly important in their business. This covers the whole spectrum from strategizing to mentoring. I draw from techniques and values that are rooted in Taekwondo which is why I call my business Coaching with a Kick.

The picture below shows me in a workshop for… you guessed it, creating my elevator pitch. 

As it turns out, working on my elevator pitch didn’t just lead to my elevator pitch but marked the beginning of a major change in my business. I realized that my website and social media presence were due for an extensive makeover. As you may know, making the decision is one thing, getting it done quite another.

But as always in business as well as in life, every journey and every project starts with the first step. Mine was the conversation with a friend who happens to be a logo and website designer. To cut a long story short, I hired Christie, and she came up with a beautiful logo. Drum-roll and curtain please. I’m proud to present….

Starting with a logo is not the most obvious place to start, but it turned out to be the perfect start for me. It literally kicked me into gear and got my creative juices flowing. There will soon be a “Coaching with a Kick” Facebook page and, but that will take a bit longer, a new website. Stay tuned, I’ll share updates in my blog, and post on Facebook and LinkedIn. `

See you in two weeks!

Make Working from Home Work for You – Part 2

In part 1 of this two-part series “Make Working from Home Work for You” I talked about

  • The importance of your workspace and work environment,
  • Suggestions on how to combat loneliness while working from home
  • And some essential tools and/or technologies for your home office

This week I’ll cover the more subtle problems of working from home. The ones that we face every day, that are easily overlooked, and that may cost us dearly, even if we don’t want to admit it. Here they are:

  • Knowing your goals and planning your days
  • Taking breaks
  • Building your own good work habits

Knowing Your Goals and Planning Your Days

Choosing the right path is only possible you know your goal(s).
Kid at a fork of a path.

It sounds simple enough and straight forward: know your goals. But more often than not that is exactly what many, especially solopreneurs and creative people, tend to lose sight of in the course of their everyday work. There are so many ideas, so many things to do. We better roll up our sleeves and get started. Or should we?

Getting caught up in the everyday happens fast. It’s the little things that sneak in and eat our time. Think of your email inbox. You may be expecting an important email. You look for it and you respond, but that’s not where you stop, or do you? I at least didn’t.  Without even thinking I continued with the remaining emails and, two hours later, am surprised that the morning is gone despite the fact that I wanted to do something else.

Whatever your little sneaky time thieves are, stop them. The only way to do so is to know what your goal(s) are. If you don’t know, you won’t make the time. Write your goals down, vet them and make sure they align with your business and values. Break them down into projects, break the projects down into manageable tasks. It’s your roadmap to bringing your ideas and goals to life. Keep this list close and check it daily to make sure you’re staying on track.

That brings me to part two: planning your days. My daily planning is divided into two parts: part one is meetings, conference calls, etc.; part two are the “non-negotiables.” I don’t think I have to explain how meetings and calls end up in my calendar. But I’d like to spend a couple of words on the “non-negotiables.”

Non-negotiables are appointments I make with myself. These are time blocks I dedicate to projects I’m working on. Every day I pick at least one of my major projects and dedicate a certain amount of my time to work at it. I choose a time that allows me to bring the most energy and best circumstances to this work. That could mean picking a time of day when I’m usually undisturbed and which is quiet, or I arrange it that way (thanks flight mode). I set a timer that reminds me when “my time is up.” This way it’s up to me to continue or just finish what I’m working on.

Another equally important non-negotiable, for example, is my daily Yoga practice and meditation and my martial arts training twice a week.  

Lastly, if possible, I reserve Fridays for “housekeeping” stuff that I didn’t get to during the week, planning the week ahead, bookkeeping… you get the idea.

What I found by putting everything in my calendar is that I get a more realistic picture of the use of my time. If I need much longer for a particular task, I adjust my calendar entry and keep it in mind for future time approximation. Very helpful.

Having said that, I don’t plan 100% of my day. I always leave generous blocks of time empty. Don’t be a miser here. You’ll thank yourself when life throws unexpected stuff at you. If it does, at least you have the flexibility to deal with it without feeling stressed out and overwhelmed. Or, as a best-case scenario, you have some additional time on your hands. I’m sure you have no problem coming up with something to do. There’s already enough stress and “catching up” in our lives; don’t add to it.

This is the perfect segway into the next topic:

Taking Breaks

Alarm clock and coffee beans reminding you to take breaks.
Red alarm clock and coffee beans.

I know it from own experience, heard it from peers, and read quite often about the fact that we as entrepreneurs or solopreneurs tend to forget to take breaks. The moment we have a free minute we start thinking what we can do to get another action item off of our To Do list.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a problem with working hard to build or grow your business. Working hard only turns into a problem when you forget to take care of yourself, your family and your friends.

Like a battery needs time to recharge, your body and brain need time to recharge as well. Without rest you can’t expect to be at your best. You need enough sleep, food that energizes you, exercise that keeps you in shape. I know, you’ve heard it before, it’s old news. But especially in difficult and demanding times, when we actually need it the most, we readily throw these basics out the window.

We scarify time with our partner or with our kids for our business. We don’t take the time to be with friends. For a little while that’s not a problem. But it may turn into one if you stretch this time out too long. Your relationships suffer and so do you.

Step away from your desk and have a coffee or lunch with a friend or your partner. Play with your kids for a while. Call your mom and have a quick chat. It’ll take your mind off work, you give yourself a break, you reconnected with a friend, or it’ll make you feel good for having spent time with your kid(s). The result will be to return afterwards with more energy and often new ideas.

What is even more worrisome is sacrificing ourselves, or more precisely, not taking care of ourselves for the benefit of spending more time in and on our business. We tend to forget that self-care is the fuel for our body and our mind which in turn impacts our performance. It’s the little things during the day that you could do.  

A no-brainer for me is not to have your lunch or any other meal at your computer or desk. It’ll ensure that you know what and how much you’re eating, a plus for those amongst us who watch their weight, and you can “check out” for a little while. You may want to leave your phone at your desk to resist the temptation to check for emails, text messages, social media and the like. Enjoy your food instead and take a break.

Exercise. Whatever you enjoy doing, the operative word here is enjoy, do it. No excuses. Go to the gym, go for a walk, work in your yard, dance, practice yoga, whatever rocks your boat. I love my Taekwondo classes and Yoga. There is no better way for me to clear my head or work out any frustration (pun intended). Especially when I’m struggling with a difficult problem stepping away from it, doing something totally unrelated, gets my creative juices flowing. Have you ever had a conversation with someone and in the middle of that conversation, for no reason whatsoever, an idea strikes you that’s unrelated to the conversation but the solution to a problem you’ve struggled with? Has that ever happened to you?

Even if you can’t take or afford a vacation, there are so many things you can do without spending a lot of money that provide a change of scenery or a new experience that’ll help you recharge, feel more energized, and get your creative juices flowing. Your work and business will thank you for it.

Let’s take a break here. I thoroughly underestimated how much I would write about “knowing your goals and planning” and “taking a break.” I’ll move “building good work habits” to my next blog. I hope you don’t mind.

If you have any experience or suggestions to the above, please share it. I’d love to learn more and I’m sure others appreciate a reminder, a suggestion or word of wisdom as well.

See you in two weeks,

How to Create Your Elevator Pitch

Dreaded by many and needed by all:
The Elevator Pitch

Being able to introduce yourself, your project, your company or your fundraising efforts effectively and, maybe even more importantly memorably, is an art. One that many are struggling with, myself included. Instead of using a few crisp, concise and memorable words, we tend to say far too much, don’t focus on the relevant bits and ramble on and on and on … only to watch the interest disappear from our listener’s eyes.   

I’ve been there, I’ve experienced it and I’m done with it. The final push to do something about it was the, in my eyes, brilliant elevator pitch of a woman who organizes children’s play areas. This is how she introduced herself: “I’m Evelyn, The Toy Tamer. I do custom playroom organizing.” She added two or three more sentences providing a bit more context and done. Everyone knows her. Not necessarily as Evelyn, but as “The Toy Tamer”.

Thanks to quite a lot of networking events I attended, entrepreneurs and solopreneurs I spoke with, and research on the internet, I found plenty of information about all the important aspects to keep in mind but interestingly also about the length. If you are not happy with your elevator pitch or even worse, you don’t have one yet, let’s read on and create our own.

What is an elevator pitch or elevator speech?

Before we dive into the “how”, let’s have a quick look at the “what”.  My version of an elevator pitch: It’s a short introduction of yourself, your project or your company with the intention to hook your listener, make them curious and wanting to learn more. Find some more detailed definitions below and use them as guideposts. But always remember: Brevity is king!

[…] It is a quick synopsis of your background and experience and credentials […]

The goal is simply to convey the overall concept or topic in an exciting way without any extra words.

The information should be condensed in order to express the most important ideas or concepts.

It should spark the listener’s interest in your idea, organization, or background.

It’s designed to get a conversation started.

It should be geared specifically to your audience.

Don’t use jargon. The only exception: when you speak with insiders or peers.

[…] the first two sentences […] are the most important and should grab the attention of the listener. 

How long should an elevator pitch be?

Researching this question online, I found recommendations that varied between seven seconds to two to three minutes. In my opinion, seven seconds seem a little too short, even considering todays often criticized short attention span of people. Thinking of an elevator ride, where the idea of an elevator pitch or speech originated from, I would aim for 30 seconds. A good rule of thumb is to have more than just one version and use them depending on the circumstances, your listener and the purpose of your conversation.

Independent of the time, the first two sentences are always the most important ones. You either make your listener’s eyes sparkle with interest or see them drift away. This is of course not always because you don’t have a good elevator pitch, it could simply mean you are not talking to the right person. But it should serve as a reminder that it pays off to find the right words and focus for your intro.

What should be included in an elevator pitch?

  1. Who you are you and what you do:
    This is kind of obvious, but I mention it anyway. In one sentence, state your name and a brief explanation of what you currently do. Don’t get hung up on titles, they don’t mean a lot, but what you do does.  
    I’m a writer for the technical products division of company A.
  2. What distinguishes you from others and why does it matter?
    Think in terms of what you love about your work, what special skills you have, how you apply these skills, what difference you make in your company or in your customers’ lives. In short, it’s time to brag. If this is difficult for you, ask colleagues and/or friends. You may be surprised what they will tell you.
    I translate complex technical specifications into easy-to-follow instructions that anyone can understand at home. I love being able to distill something complex and full of jargon into simple, clear steps and help people master technology.
  3. Who is your ideal client or customer?
    If you own a business or you work as a consultant, it is important to add who your ideal customer or client is. Questions like company type or organization, values, and size may be relevant for you. If you work with customers or clients one-on-one you may want to be clear about what matters to them, values, age, likes, dislikes, problems they face, etc.
    Let’s take a coach or consultant as example.
    I work with executives and leaders, facing problems arising among international teams.
    I work with leaders in corporations to build trust through better communications and help them reach better results.
    Expanding on the example of the tech writer mentioned above we may say:
    I focus on technical companies in the XYZ area….
    I love to work with technical startups….
  4. What do you want or what’s next?
    This part is often overlooked, telling the listener what you want. Are you in the market for a new job that offers you more challenges in your current field, do you intend to switch industries, are you looking for a more senior role in your or another company, would you like to present your services or products, have you heard about a problem you may be able to solve?
    Before you end your pitch or speech, don’t forget to state what you want and suggest the next step. This could be following up with some additional information, asking for the opportunity to present a product, sending your resume, … you name it. Here are some examples:
    As a freelance writer: Now I’m looking to branch out and do consulting work so I can apply this expertise to other companies and improve the understanding of their technology.
    As someone who sells products or services: If you’re interested, I’m happy to send you some information about my products/services.
    If you touched on some specifics during your elevator pitch offer to mail the information discussed or mentioned.

How to create your elevator pitch

Let’s move on to the next step. How do you determine the specifics, the buzzwords, the hook for your elevator pitch? It’s time to grab a pen and paper or get your computer and start brainstorming. For each of the four categories write everything down that comes to your mind. Yes, I said everything. Take your time, be as specific as possible, and most importantly, don’t censor yourself. There is no such thing as right or wrong.

After you’re done with your brain dump, it’s time to prune. What do you want the focus of your elevator pitch to be? What is the most important information someone else should know about you, your company, or your project? Use these questions to get to the core:   

  • What is your goal?
  • Who is your audience? (You may need more than one elevator pitch.)
  • Don’t use industry jargon (exception: if you’re talking with industry insiders).
  • Where are redundancies?
  • What makes you stand out in your field?
  • What special skills do you bring to the table?
  • What problems do you solve for your company/clients/customers?
  • What language do your customers/clients use?
  • Why is what you do so important?
  • What are your values?

I know it is difficult to delete stuff. We instantly get the feeling of missing out on something, losing a client, a customer, or a job opportunity. That’s why it is so important to be clear about the goal. The more specific you are, the more aligned you are with your values, the more you know about your customers/clients, the more relevant and better your elevator pitch will become.

If you’re like me, I come up with a ton of different versions. I recommend you write them all down and “play” with them. Mix them up, edit them, exchange words, until you find a version you like. I found changing the sentence structure or replacing a word can make all the difference. That’s why I always keep all the versions I created until I’m done.  

Ok, we’re not quite done yet. There is one more step I highly recommend you do. Practice, practice, practice. Before you use your elevator pitch or speech, record it, practice it on a friend or with your partner, and ask for feedback. You don’t want your elevator pitch to sound rehearsed or manufactured. In one post I read that you don’t want anyone to feel “networked.” Remember, the purpose of your elevator pitch is to get a conversation started, to make people curious about you, your company, service, or product. You name it. One blogger suggested to use a question as a conversation starter instead of starting with your pitch. The reason being that with this question you may get some crucial information to help you “customize” your pitch.

I’m not ready yet to post my elevator pitch. I started working on it but it’s still a work in progress. I promise I’ll share it so as soon as it’s done. How about you?

Feel free to add your thoughts and recommendations. Or even better, share yours so that we can learn from it.

Talk to you next time!

“Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.”

Quote by David McCullough

Thanks Pixabay and rawpixel for this beautiful picture.

Tying into last week’s blog, I thought this quote from well-known American author, narrator, popular historian and lecturer David McCullough may remind you that writing about or for your business may feel really hard, because it is. It is much easier to ramble on and on instead of searching for the right word. It is hard to compose a sentence or paragraph that tells your customer or client exactly what you want them to know. I certainly can relate.

Look at it as a work in progress and keep on trying to write your best. Find your own voice, your own style. It will help your clients or customers to get to know you and ultimately feel comfortable doing business with you.

Until next time!